Mountain Middle School is changing its lottery system this year to boost the number of minority and economically disadvantaged students in its classrooms.
The charter school serves about 240 students in fourth through eighth grades, and about 13% of those students identify as a racial minority and 8% of the student body is from low-income households, said Head of School Shane Voss.
The school plans to increase ethnic diversity by doubling the chances that students from low-income households have in being selected in the annual lottery to attend Mountain Middle, he said.
“This is the next chapter for Mountain Middle School,” Voss said. “We want to reach a more diverse population.”
Mountain Middle has always held a lottery to select its students, a practice common among charter schools because far more students are interested in attending the school than it can accept. During the last two lotteries, 650 families have entered, meaning fewer than half make it in, he said.
Mountain Middle School Interim Board President Catherine Gervais said she expects the new lottery system to increase access for all residents and benefit the student body.
“I just think that diversity offers a richer culture to the entire school,” she said.
Many charter schools across Colorado have adopted similar weighted lotteries to help diversify their student populations, said Terry Croy Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Charter School Institute. Mountain Middle School is chartered through the state institute.
Charter schools in Colorado, including Mountain Middle School, have faced some criticism for being elite, a reputation they faced because of how charter schools started in the state, she said. Many of them started in suburban areas and did not offer transportation, which made it tough for low-income families to send their children to those schools, she said.
However, charter schools in Colorado have been diversifying over about 25 years, which benefits students, she said.
“We live in a diverse world, and it’s becoming more diverse. It’s important for our students to be educated in and experience that,” Lewis said.
In Durango, Mountain Middle School has faced criticism from the community that its elitism has allowed it to achieve high standardized test scores.
“We hear a lot of rumors that we don’t have challenging students here, and that’s simply not true,” Voss said.
The school’s project-based learning model has allowed all the school’s students, including those from low-income households, to perform equally well on state standardized tests, he said.
Thus far, the school’s decision to change its lottery hasn’t been met with any opposition that Voss is aware of, he said.
“I brought the concept forward to our teachers and our teachers were very excited about this,” he said.